Nurturing a Symbiotic Relationship with Michigan Nature

by Dan Burton, MNA Sanctuary Steward

March signals the end of another winter, woody invasive shrubs removal season. It is not exactly a season noted on the calendar or managed by regulators, but is well known to many volunteer stewards. For me the season begins when the trees have lost most of their leaves in late fall and ends as sap begins to swell overwintered buds in early spring. As I recently toured a prairie fen I steward noting this season’s piles of cut invasive shrubs and open canopy, I was excited for the restoration work completed. I was also saddened to see another season go, even though I knew it meant spring was around the corner.

Before restoration work. Photo by Dan Burton.

There is something about this restoration work that I find very rewarding. It is tough physical work in cold winter conditions, but I am still drawn (if not addicted) to it. Part of the draw is working outside immersed in the natural elements that awaken dormant senses not unlike the hours I spend hiking and canoeing. Part of it is the physical tasks that drain my ageing body’s meager energy reserves taking with it pent-up anxiety from everyday life and yet somehow leaving me recharged. Part of it is the positive feeling of helping out an underdog prairie fen as it fights off a formidable foe in invasive shrubs. The prairie fen has historically had the help of fire in this battle, but that friendly partner has been mostly absent these days and sorely missed by many of the prairie fen’s native flora and fauna that benefit from the open canopy created.

Another part is the human elements I find outdoors even when working solo. I usually get to work with some dedicated like minded volunteers and enjoy the camaraderie, but COVID restrictions made this a solo season. As this season came to an end and I looked around the prairie fen I had worked so hard to help in its struggle against invasive intruders, I found myself alone and thinking about my stepdad and his brother who introduced me to the outdoors as a kid. They are both gone now and in some way, I think I was hoping they would be proud of the restoration work, its benefit to wildlife, and how they played a role in it by introducing me to the outdoors so many years ago.

After restoration work. Photo by Dan Burton.

As I rested on a weathered downed tree tossing back trail mix, faded fond memories of early morning fishing and hunting trips with the two of them drifted in lifting my spirits. They would be proud of the restoration work, but being old school they likely would have questioned my sanity. It does seem crazy to think of the hours, effort and resources I put into volunteer stewardship, yet I benefit as much as the prairie fen and its fantastic native flora and fauna. I guess you could simply say I am in a symbiotic relationship with a pretty prairie fen and thankful for its many mutual benefits.


Learn more about how you can become a Sanctuary Steward with MNA and start nurturing your symbiotic relationship today at michigannature.org.

Women’s History Month, March 2021

March is Women’s History Month. Women have long been active leaders in the conservation movement, and so we are proud to recognize just a few of those women who have contributed to conservation, both nationally as well as here in Michigan.

MNA Founder Bertha Daubendiek and Others Paddling at Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from the MNA Archives.

National/Global

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is most well-known as being the author of Silent Spring, her bestselling book that shed light on public and environmental health concerns surrounding the use of DDT, and is widely credited with advancing the environmental movement.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a dedicated supporter of conservation in the Everglades, writing the iconic book The Everglades: River of Grass the same year that Everglades National Park was established. “”It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment.”

Margaret Murie

Margaret Murie accomplished great things in her work to preserve wilderness in Alaska. Dubbed the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, one of her great victories was the establishment and expansion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Dorceta Taylor

Dorceta Taylor is an environmental sociologist, who was the first black woman to earn a PhD from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Her research into the history of environmental injustices in America has been captured in several of her books.

Read about more women who made great conservation strides in this article by The Wilderness Society.

Michigan

Bertha Daubendiek

Bertha Daubendiek (second from right) and a group of visitors at an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

Bertha Daubendiek was born in Montana, but moved to Michigan in 1936. She worked as a secretary and a court reporter for several years prior to founding the Michigan Nature Association in 1952. What began as a bird study group has grown to become the oldest statewide land conservancy in Michigan, protecting habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species at its more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries throughout the state. Bertha also authored the “Michigan’s Natural Beauty Road Law” which was enacted in 1970, and prevents widening of roadways without public hearings. For her many contributions to conservation in Michigan, Bertha was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Historical Society’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

Emma Genevieve Gillette

Genevieve Gillette was born and raised in the Lansing, Michigan area, and was the first female graduate of the landscape architecture program at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) in 1920. As a close friend of P.J. Hoffmaster, then superintendent of state parks, Genevieve was enlisted to scout areas in the state with the potential to become state parks. Genevieve raised public support and funding for state parks at Ludington, Hartwick Pines, Wilderness, Porcupine Mountains, P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, as well as Kensington Metropark and the national lakeshores at Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Her biography on the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame states: “It might justly be said of Gillette: ‘If you seek her monument, look about you.”

Huldah Neal

Huldah Neal has been described as “the epitome of what contemporary newspapers referred to as the ‘new woman’ of the 1890s.” A native of the Lower Peninsula’s Grand Traverse County, Huldah reportedly became frustrated by poaching of fish and game, and determined to resolve the issue herself. This is how Huldah became the first female conservation officer in the country; as game warden, she patrolled the remote areas of the county enforcing fish and game laws, and garnering national attention. Huldah paved the way for women in conservation enforcement, with dozens of women serving as conservation officers in Michigan recently.

Edith Munger

Most Michiganders know that the state bird is the American robin, a classically recognizable bird. Though you may not know that we have Edith Munger, first woman president of the Michigan Audubon to thank for this designation, as it was her campaign celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Audubon in 1929 that resulted in the naming of the state bird.

Joan Wolfe

Another founding woman was Joan Wolfe, who in 196 established the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the first diverse member environmental advocacy organization in the state. She coordinated the drafting and passage of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Joan also served on a number of environmental boards and commissions including the Natural Resources Commission, the Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, and more.

A group visits an MNA Nature Sanctuary. Undated photo from MNA Archives.

These are just a few of the amazing women who have made great strides for conservation in their communities. At MNA, we are proud to have been part of the incredible history of women in the environment and look forward to more women having a positive impact on protecting Michigan nature forever, for everyone.

Sanctuary Spotlight: Five Lakes Muskegon

Tucked away behind a series of commercial zones in Muskegon County, the Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful 106-acre complex of wetlands, oak-pine barrens, and dry sand prairie. With land acquisitions by MNA beginning in 1977, the sanctuary has grown many times over the years, with the latest acquisition of 25 acres in 2011.

Intense timber harvesting by the previous landowners resulted in thick regeneration of oak saplings and other woody species that began to shade out the savanna oriented understory. In 2018, MNA entered into a partnership agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to enhance the savanna/barrens community by conducting woody growth mowing across the new parcel.

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Aerial view of coastal plain marsh. MNA Archives.

The sanctuary is located within the Five Lakes Muskegon area, so named because although the Federal survey of 1836 showed one large body of water, it has long ago shrunk to what is known locally as the “Five Lakes”. This change in the water level could be the reason for the several different types of natural communities found here.

Such a diverse landscape as found here supports an impressive array of herptiles, particularly turtles and frogs that depend on the wetlands for water, with turtles using the surrounding sandy soils for egg laying sites. A variety of bird species use the sanctuary throughout the year; the state-threatened common loon, special-concern classified American bittern, and many species of conservation priority species including the pied-billed grebe, great blue heron, red-headed woodpecker, and field sparrow are annual visitors. The sanctuary also includes an extraordinary number of rare wildflowers, sedges, rushes and grasses.

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A volunteer holds a green frog. Photo by John Bagley.

The biodiversity of this sanctuary makes preserving this habitat a high priority in Michigan. The work being conducted at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary is an excellent example of how MNA approaches stewardship at special sites. By scientifically assessing restoration needs, seeking partnerships to secure needed resources to conduct restoration, and providing ongoing monitoring and maintenance, MNA staff and volunteers are in the best possible position to sustain imperiled natural communities and expand habitat for the rare plants and animals found within them.

MNA’s conservation work at Five Lakes Muskegon was recognized by the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition in 2019 with a “Sustainability Champion Award”; a testament to the hard work of the volunteers, stewards, and partners that help MNA achieve its goal of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage.

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Volunteer Steward, Claire DeBlanc, and Director of Outreach & Education, Julie Stoneman, accept the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition “Sustainability Champion” Award.

You can help MNA maintain this, and many other unique nature sanctuaries by joining a volunteer sanctuary workday – learn more at michigannature.org!

2018 Year in Review

A Year of Milestones

2018 Year in Review Cover

Two major anniversaries distinguish a busy and exciting 2018.

The first, of course, is the 45th anniversary of the Michigan Nature Association’s campaign that prevented logging of the largest stand of old growth white pine left in Michigan and established our Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in 1973. The drive to raise needed funds to secure Estivant galvanized individuals, organizations and service clubs from all over the state and still stands as one of MNA’s crowning achievements.

In that spirit, we were delighted to receive a $90,000 challenge grant in honor of the Estivant Pines anniversary, and this new campaign is underway as this Year in Review goes to print.  With your generous support, we will add 60 more acres to this iconic nature sanctuary and direct $90,000 in challenge dollars to stewardship needs in our nature sanctuary network.

2018 is also the 45th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act.  The Endangered Species Act is an essential, national framework for protecting rare, threatened and endangered species but it has been under assault since its passage in 1973.  2018 was no different and we made our voice heard by stepping up to formally oppose rule changes that could have a devastating impact on the statute. We will continue to monitor and act on threats to this critical environmental law.

One of the major limitations of the Endangered Species Act, however, is the lack of funding for protecting critical habitat.  Remarkably, twenty years before Congress passed this landmark legislation, MNA’s founders recognized the need for action to protect Michigan’s rarest and most vulnerable species and natural communities, pioneering the strategy of protecting land in Michigan to do so.  We pursue that mission every day thanks to their foresight and our members and donor who continually rally to the cause.

Celebrating these two major milestones bookend a year’s worth of notable activities that you will read about in this Year in Review.  None of our work is possible without the commitment of our members, donors, and volunteers, and I hope you are as proud as I am of what we have accomplished together.  Be it saving old growth white pines in the Keweenaw, protecting imperiled natural communities across our great state, or defending critical policies for threatened and endangered species, we are truly all in this together.

Thank you for all you do—I look forward to another year of working with you to protect Michigan’s incredible natural heritage.

Garret Johnson
Executive Director